U.K. Review: "Fame: The Musical" U.K. Tour

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Lewis Baird

  • United Kingdom Critic

“Fame the Musical” is currently touring the UK with its 30th Anniversary tour, this week it stops off at Edinburgh’s delightful King’s Theatre.

The musical follows students of the New York City High School of performing arts, and their struggles to succeed or perhaps fail at reaching the career of their dreams.

“Fame the Musical” has featured within UK theatres heavily, especially touring within the last decade. There have also been many amateur productions in many local theatres/town halls. So, it is a well-known show, up and down the country. In recent years, productions have failed to capture the unapologetic magic energy this show needs, which has caused them to close early or have very poor reviews. The difference with this production, is that it seems brave, unapologetic and higher budget due to it signifying the 30th anniversary. This is all thanks to the cast and creatives who drive this show in a very welcome new direction.

Molly McGuire portrays Serena, this portrayal of the character is very different to previous productions, there is a certain goofy energy which adds depth and a brilliant, rather fresh take on a character which in other productions could be seen as bland or generic. The vocal work from Molly is gorgeous, the control and her belting range really surprises the audience. Mica Paris is another vocal delight as Miss Sherman, her voice simply is staggering, her rendition of “These are my Children” was stunning. Also, her characterisation of Miss Sherman was very believable with the stern attitude with a lot of sass. It was a good slight contemporary adaption of this character.

Jamal Kane Crawford supplies a ton of energy and depth to the character of Tyrone, in the musical numbers he lifts the theatre and owns the stage. With the dialogue, Jamal makes the audience really feel Tyrone’s frustration and understand him, rather than the other depictions of this character, where we do not see reason. Jamal’s performance was fantastic, and it was obvious how hard he worked to achieve the energy needed for Tyrone’s complex dance numbers, plus the acting ability he needed to achieve a believable portrayal with the issues Tyrone is facing. Jorgie Porter is surprisingly delightful as Iris. Jorgie is completely believable as a ballet dancer due to how she holds herself and manages to glide gracefully across the stage, she also throws herself into all the dance numbers. With the development of Iris, she supplies subtle, nice changes to show Iris softening to her peers, which works well, to keep the sternness but slowly show a softer side to the character.

Stephanie Rojas shines as Carmen. Stephanie provides us with a brilliant journey of this student who elevates to a diva, then hits the ground again. Stephanie’s performance of “In L.A” is so haunting, the character choices made in the second section of the song are so effective and really give depth to a song which could have hints of sadness, but in this case, it leaves the characters involved, plus the audience devastated. Stephanie’s superb vocal talents also add to the powerful character of Carmen. Simon Anthony as Schlomo provides great vocals, splendid musical talents on guitar and piano. However, as much as he provides a great character for Schlomo, it is questionable whether Simon’s casting really is suitable, due to how mature his appearance and nature is, it does make him look a like a duck out of water compared to the other cast members who merge into the high school environment. This question of the suitability of his age range does slightly shadow his portrayal; however, Simon’s talent is flawless.

Keith Jack shows promise as Nick, however at points there is a disconnection from the character, it makes scenes seem forced and very unnatural. There are problems with articulation, where Nick suddenly shouts, but the audience isn’t able to understand him, and there are also accent issues as well where Keith’s lovely Scottish accent is clearly coming through. Vocally while singing Keith is brilliant, the audience is very aware of his talent from previous musical theatre productions, however, in “Fame” there is something which is just disconnecting this character with the audience in Keith’s portrayal.

Albey Brookes is phenomenally funny as Joe, he supplies some great laughs through song, Shakespearian costume, and dialogue, using every hint of comedy as a device, which leaves the audience loving his character. Hayley Johnston as Mabel is also hilarious, providing some laughs and sass, especially her perfect rendition of “Mabel’s prayer.”

Alexander Zane as Goody and Louisa Beadel as Lambchops, both give superb musical and acting performances, which really do lift the dynamic on stage. They make his production slightly braver and out there with Simon Anthony by bringing the band on stage for some numbers. This is where other productions fail to use this opportunity.

Katie Warsop is very believable as Miss Bell also has done a fantastic job as the resident choreographer by keeping the production’s dancers in check. Her vocal talent is graceful and controlled, just as you would expect from a dance teacher. Cameron Johnston is good as the supporting character Mr. Myers, even though his portrayal is sound, a set issue occurred on press evening which caused Cameron to break character. This break of character was not particularly necessary, I understand in his other role as resident director of the production may have rung alarm bells, but this attempt at fixing a jammed piece of set during a scene made the issue obvious and also unsettled the audience’s point of focus.

Also, Graham Hoadly’s short appearances as Mr. Sheinkopf are hilarious. The ensemble featured really are vocally and physically talented, their movement skills are awe-inspiring.

Nick Winston directs this production, he successfully manages to capture some of the elements of this musical which worked previously and amplify them, plus add in new contemporary ingredients which help lift it. Nick has definitely tried his best to stretch out the production and make it more accessible and entertaining, to prove that 30 years on, fame is still living. To help him with this, he has a very snazzy stage design by Morgan Large, which has the back wall and the left of the stage covered by colorfully lit headshots, with a second floor also on the headshots, plus detachable stairs. The costume Morgan also designed is very contemporary however hints back to the 1980s “Fame,” which is a very nice touch. Mark Crossland as Musical Supervisor and Dustin Conrad as Musical director both manage to really lift the musical numbers and make them, well, better. As much as the creative team of this production have managed to produce the best production of “Fame the Musical,” unfortunately the original book by José Fernandez, music by Steve Margoshes and lyrics by Jacques Levy do not supply the best quality musical out there. The text supplies some very one-dimensional characters which need a lot of work done in the rehearsal process, some of the musical numbers are very flat, plus generic sounding, and the musical plays on stereotypes in such a cliché way.

That being said, as much as there are definitely issues with “Fame the Musical” itself, and also some issues with this production, I was taken by surprise at how far this is from the tired “Fame” productions that have been touring around the UK recently. This is an entertaining musical which features some brilliant dynamics in characters, music and definitely dance.